Los Angeles is the largest US city to ban the ever-present plastic bag in a vote of 13-1.
The ban applies to all 7500 supermarkets and requires retailers to charge 10-cents for each paper bag.
Once the City crafts an ordinance, large supermarkets will have six months, and smaller ones will have a year to eliminate plastic bags. In about 16 months, people will have to pay 10 cents per paper bag ... or, gasp! bring their own reusable bag.
Other Plastic Bag Bans
About a dozen California municipalities have banned them, including San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach and Santa Monica. Oakland dropped its proposed ban when it was sued, but it will be covered by Alameda County's ban, which starts next year.
The bans vary between cities - some apply to all retailers, but none charge for paper bags, an important step in getting people to bring their own. Producing paper bags is actually more resource-intensive - in terms of the trees and water required - than plastic.
There's already a 10-cent paper bag fee in Los Angeles County, which has cut the use 94%, Jennie Romer of Plastic Bag Laws told the LA Times.
California attempted to pass a state-wide ban in 2010, but industry lobbying killed the bill. There have also been attempts to ban plastic take-out containers, and many cities have a partial or total ban on polystyrene food containers.
Last year, Seattle unanimously voted to ban plastic bags and charge 5 cents for paper bags. In 2008, Seattle moved to charge 20-cents for paper or plastic, but the industry spent $1.6 million convincing people to vote against it in a referendum. It also banned polystyrene and styrofoam take-out containers and plastic utensils. Bellingham, Edmonds and Mukilteo also banned plastic bags last year.
The Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai, and over 30 coastal towns in Alaska have banned plastic bags.
And there are bans in Ireland, Italy, China, South Africa and Bangladesh.
Just about every city, state or country that's banned them has had the same result. Plastic-related industries fight tooth and nail about the devastating impact it will have on business and jobs lost, people and businesses grumble, and then ... it works.
Which industries are against it? Petroleum and chemical companies, state food merchant associations, bag wholesalers and distributors, the American Chemistry Council, which represents plastic and chemical companies, and the Progressive Bag Alliance, the plastic bag makers trade group. They lobby in every city, often winning, pushing for bag recycling instead of bans.
Why the Ban?
Clean water advocates have been campaigning on this issue for years. 12 billion plastic bags a year are consumed in California - less than 5% is recycled. It costs $25 million a year just to bury those bags in landfills.
Bans reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills - which costs $25 million a year in California - and they unintentionally end up in the state's waterways and the ocean.
"Some of the litter, like thin film single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere - there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, in a report about the growing tide of marine litter.
Plastic - especially plastic bags and PET bottles - accounts for over 80% of marine litter around the world, says the report.
There's no better example of this needless litter than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the North Pacific Gyre - twice the size of Texas.
Four million tons of floating plastic waste can be seen in every direction, but it's the plastic that's broken down into much smaller pieces that is the greatest concern. Plastic photodegrades - sunlight causes it to become brittle and break into ever smaller pieces.
Eventually these tiny pieces resemble plankton, the primary organism on the marine food chain. Random water samplings taken from the Garbage Patch contain hundreds or even thousands of plastic pieces for each actual plankton. These pieces, which don't exactly float or sink, are suspended in the top 30 meters of water. One researcher said the underwater scene is like being inside an enormous snow globe.
Each speck of plastic collects persistent organic pollutants -chemical toxins like DDT and other pesticides that are prevalent in the ocean and cling to the plastic. Organisms eat it and it moves up the food chain.
"You can't cross an ocean today without finding plastic pollution," says Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute.
Here's a trailer for a film on plastic bags that's appearing on the Documentary channel:
This website shows cities how to pass bans that hold up against industry litigation: